Why Is This Place so Great?
Located in the Tochigi Prefecture of Japan, Nikko is only a two-hour drive or train ride away from Tokyo. Having discovered natural alkaline hot spring waters in 1691 that heals sprains, muscle pains, and joint pains, coupled with its cool climate during summer, Nikko has long been one of the most popular destinations for local travelers to visit during their holidays.
Nikko is also infamous for its beauty. There are numerous hiking trails that contain different sceneries like the highlands of Japan in Kirifuri or the tranquil waterfalls found within Nikko National Park (made even more beautiful during the fall when visitors can see the leaves in their autumn colors).
Also known for being a place of Buddhist worship, Nikko has an incredibly rich history with numerous temples and shrines to show for it. This includes UNESCO World Heritage awarded Toshogu Shrine which had been intricately designed with gold leaves.
Where Should I Stay?
Luxury Hotel: Kinugawa Kanaya Hotel
Located in the Kinugawaonsen district in Tochigi, Kinugawa Kanaya Hotel is approximately 40 minutes away from Nikko by train, and 30 minutes by car. Staying in the Kinugawaonsen area is perfect for our luxury travelers since they can easily go to Nikko on a day trip and enjoy the natural healing waters of the onsen (hot spring) on a daily basis.
The hotel’s 39 rooms are all decorated in ryokan style featuring traditional Japanese furnishings including tatami mats, sliding paper screen doors, and the option to sleep on a Western-style bed or traditional Japanese mats. Coupled with Kinugawa riverfront views, guests can fully relax and live in harmony with the hotel’s surrounding nature. If guests prefer to stay connected with technology, the rooms are all equipped with televisions, DVD players, iPod docks, and WiFi.
One of the privileges in-house guests receive at the Kinugawa Kanaya Hotel is complimentary access to the two different onsen bath areas available on property.
Visit the Ancient Cypress Bath area to soak in two large outdoor baths made of white granite and ancient cypress trees and enjoy the heat of a traditional European sauna. Conversely, soak an indoor marble bath or one of two outdoor granite baths in the Four Seasons Bath while enjoying views of the Kinugawa river valley. Since this activity is an ancient Japanese pastime, there are stipulated guidelines on onsen etiquette. One of which is soaking completely naked. Consequently, men and women are separated into different bathhouses. To allow both genders to enjoy all of hot springs facilities, the hotel has a sauna schedule (with cleaning periods in between) so be sure that the bathhouse is open to your gender before heading down! For more information on the proper onsen etiquette, click here.
While the hotel provides in-house onsens to their guests, those who are looking for a little added luxury should book a Deluxe Japanese Room, or any of the Club Floor Suites, to receive a bathtub to soak in the same healing waters provided at the onsen in the privacy of your own room.
Another benefit of staying at Kinugawa Kanaya Hotel is the half board dining plan provided to all guests on behalf of the hotel. Guests have the option to choose between a Western or Japanese style breakfast and multi-course kaiseki dinner to be enjoyed at their fine-dining restaurant, or in the privacy of their room at a higher price. Once you’ve finished, enjoy some time at the hotel’s cigar salon or go to Kanaya Gift Shop to purchase some locally made items.
Lifestyle Hotel: Kinugawa Grand Hotel Yume no Toki
Like our luxury hotel choice, Kinugawa Grand Hotel is also located in the Kinugawaonsen district of Tochigi, which is a 40-minute drive from Hunter Mountain Shiobara (some of the best skiing in the Tochigi Prefecture) and a 30-minute drive away from Nikko station in the opposite direction.
The hotel’s 100 rooms are spread across eight floors and offer guests an authentic ryokan experience containing tatami mats and Japanese style low furniture with the option to sleep on Western-style mattresses in any of their suites. Kinugawa Grand Hotel is eco-friendly and makes environmental considerations including the use of LED lights across the hotel to reduce the power consumption by 40%.
Kinugawa Grand Hotel offers nine different onsen experiences across two bathhouses named Kinu No Toride and Kinu No Yume. At Kinu No Toride, guests can experience a jacuzzi style bath as well as a mist sauna unit, while Kinu No Yume has a silk bath that makes skin smoother and promotes relaxation. Since part of onsen etiquette is bathing naked, the two bathhouses have gender-specific schedules on when to enter. For more information on proper onsen etiquette, please click here.
For those who prefer not to soak publicly, Kinugawa Grand Hotel also offers five private bathing rooms, to groups or individuals, that each has their own design and can be rented for a period of 50 minutes per session for an added cost.
Kinugawa Grand Hotel provides a complimentary Japanese or Western breakfast to all guests, but half board dining packages can be purchased ahead of time to dine at their new-age Japanese restaurant named Wakana, or have a traditional Kyoto style meal at their Yamashina restaurant. Both dining establishments feature fresh seasonal ingredients to highlight each dish.
Boutique Hotel: Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko
Located in the Chuzenji Onsen district of Tochigi, KAI Nikko is situated in front of Lake Chuzenji, which is a popular destination for hiking and taking in beautiful scenery, including the infamous Kegon Falls which is just a 5-minute drive away from the hotel. Nikko station is only a 40-minute bus ride away from the hotel, and 30-minutes by car, which makes it perfect for our boutique travelers to see the cultural and scenic sides of Nikko that most local travelers try to find.
The hotel’s 33 rooms are modernly designed in ryokan style, featuring tatami mats and bamboo and paper screen doors, mixed in with western living areas and beds. KAI also provides many amenities for its guests to use during their stay, including 100% flax yukata casual kimonos, traditional Japanese cloth makeshift bags, and traditional Japanese straw sandals.
KAI encourages its guests to indulge in Japanese culture. In addition to its gender separated onsens (read more about onsen etiquette here), guests are also presented with a live dance performance about Nikko Geta, the traditional straw sandals that have been crafted in Nikko since the Edo period 400 years ago.
All guests staying at KAI receive half board dining, where they’ll receive a traditional Japanese breakfast and a multi-course kaiseki dinner. In addition to this, complimentary coffee is served throughout the day at the hotel’s Woodcraft Library that overlooks Lake Chuzenji. If anyone in your party has any dietary requirements, let the hotel know upon making your reservation and they’ll do their best to accommodate your needs.
What Should I Do?
Luxury Activity: Walk Through a Historic Imperial Summer Retreat at Tamozawa Imperial Villa
Tamozawa Imperial Villa was originally created as a residence for the Tokugawa family who ruled during the Edo era. The home was then moved from what was once the village named Edo, now called Tokyo, to Nikko and ultimately became a summer residence for the Imperial family until 1947.
The Imperial Villa suffered much neglect after World War II and required lots of restoration to bring it back to its former glory of Edo and modern Meiji architecture. The grounds finally reopened in 2000 as a public museum of the Imperial family’s living quarters. Although the remains of the building are only a third of its original space, the villa’s 106 rooms are still impressive in size and grandeur and still makes Tamozawa Imperial Villa one of the largest wooden building structures in Japan.
Lifestyle Activity: Hike in Nikko National Park and See a UNESCO Heritage Site
Nikko National Park is massive, spanning over 1,148km2 of space and spreads over four prefectures: Tochigi, Gunma, Fukushima, and Niigata. Consequently, our lifestylers and avid trekkers are truly spoilt for choice on the type of hike and scenery they’d like to see whilst visiting Nikko. However, if you are short on time, we’d suggest taking a trail that consists of seeing the shrines and temples native to the area, including UNESCO Heritage awarded Toshogu Shrine which received its accolade for its unique architecture and design.
On our proposed trail, travelers should see the following in this order:
- Shinkyo Bridge: literally translating to “sacred bridge” in English, Shinkyo technically belongs to Futarasaran Shrine, but marks the entrance to all of Nikko’s historic shrines and temples. Shinkyo has been ranked one of the best bridges in the nation.
- Rinnoji Temple: Founded by Shodo Shonin, a monk who introduced Nikko to Buddhism, Rinnoji has always been Nikko’s most important temple for worship. The temple’s main building, Sanbutsudo, is its most impressive annex, featuring gold lacquered wooden statues.
- Toshogu Shrine: This UNESCO Heritage site is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first ruler of the Edo era, and has been named the “Great Deity of the East Shining Light”. This is the most impressive shrine or temple in the Nikko district, featuring countless wood carvings and gold leaf décor on the building exterior. There are lots to see at Toshogu, including a story pagoda at the main entrance and even a museum dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu showcasing the former shogun’s impressive collection.
- Futarasan Shrine: Also founded by Shodo Shonin, this is one of three Futarasan Shrines in the area, which are all dedicated to the deities of Nikko’s three most sacred mountains: Mount Nantai, Mount Nyoho, and Mount Taro.
- Taiyuin Temple: This temple is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s grandson, Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Edo era. Taiyuin is a replica of the Toshogu Shrine, by orders of Iemitsu himself in his will, but requested that it be made smaller than Toshogu out of respect for his ancestor.
- Ryuko-in Temple: Built in during the middle of the Edo period, this temple does not bear as much significance as its neighbors; however, continuing on the path from this temple provides a different scenic view from your descent.
- Shiraito Falls: With “white thread falls” as its literal English translation, this stream-like fall was loved for its tranquility and inspired ancient Japanese poems. The most famous was written by Jiko from the Kyoto Seigoin Temple, who wrote “After many years of marriage, the end is just like the end of this waterfall. It is like white thread.”
- Takio Shrine (also known as Takino-o Shrine): As a branch of the Futarasan Shrine, women desiring children have often come to pray and touch the Kodane-ishi rock for luck in their conception. Others have also come to test their luck, for legend says that if a person is successful in throwing a pebble through the Enmusubi-no-Sasa and Undameshi-no-Torii stone gates within their first three tries, then they will have luck on their side.
- From Here, head back down to Shinkyo Bridge, and make additional stops at Kitano Shrine amongst others on the way down. For clarification, this is the route described:
Although Google Maps states that the walk will only take approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes, remember to add a couple hours to explore all the temples and museums if you’re interested!
With tons of other potential hiking trails in Nikko National Park, those visiting for longer periods of time should try to see the Lake Chuzenji landscapes with a stop at Kegon Falls beforehand, and the highlands of Kirifuri Kogen.
Boutique Activity: Experience 17th Century Japan at Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura
The Edo period, between 1615 and 1868, was a time of great significance towards Japanese history when the country lived in harmony under the ruling of the Tokugawa family after years of civil war. A lot of Japanese cultural developments were made during this time when art and live theatre were prevalent and Samurais were considered the highest ranking social position.
Edo Wonderland gives visitors the opportunity to experience the beauty of this era first hand by walking through the market district to buy some Edo period inspired souvenirs, learn the art of Dojo, eat Edo period cuisine, meet a swordsmith or fire brigade chief, and watch a variety of live traditional Edo performances that can’t be seen anywhere else. If visitors really want to be immersed in Edo culture, they can dress up in period costumes ranging from kimonos, princesses, ninjas, or samurais!
Where Should I Eat?
Luxury Restaurant: Takaiya
Takaiya is a distinguished restaurant that is frequented by locals, dignitaries, and even the Emperor during his visits. Steeped in history, the restaurant is home to many artifacts mainly surrounding the buckwheat culture that was popular throughout Japanese history, and include signs of ancient soba stores, and order forms from the past. Despite this, Takaiya serves Nikko Takai cuisine that was created during the Edo period in the form of a Kaseiki (degustation) menu. Open for lunch and dinner, the Kaiseki courses vary, but do let them know in advance if you have any dietary requirements or are celebrating something!
For Lifestyle Choose: Komekichi Kozushi
Komekichi Kozushi is a small family owned restaurant in Nikko that serves amazing sushi bento box style. We understand that it isn’t easy being a vegetarian in Japan since fish and meats are main ingredients used in cooking their cuisine; however, the staff at Komekichi Kozushi understand this and have created an all vegetarian section to the menu featuring cucumber and pickled vegetable sushi, homemade soups, as well as a large variety of menu items showcasing yuba, Japanese tofu skin. For our carnivores and pescatarians travelers out there, Komekichi Kozushi serves incredibly fresh sashimi and sushi option sourced locally. If you’re having a hard time choosing your meal, take a look at their daily, low-priced specials, or choose their sushi combination plate that offers samples of numerous different fish.
For Boutique Choose: Hippari Dako
Hippari Dako is an infamous restaurant in Nikko that serves cooked Japanese comfort food, but their most well-known dish is yakitori. Yakitori is a Japanese form of cooking skewered meats, grilled over a charcoal fire, and often served with a thick sweetened soy sauce called Tare. In addition to their chicken thigh or meatball yakitoris, patrons will also find gyozas, soup ramen or udon, yaki-soba or udon (stir-fried noodles with sauce), and fried cutlets of meat on the menu. If you want to try a larger selection of the menu, customers are also given the choice for the assorted combination of yakitoris and yakisoba.